One of the questions the Old Spotted Dog Ground Trust (OSDGT) directors are asked all the time is “when will the club return to playing at the Ground?” The problem is that we cannot give a firm answer: we need to meet the FA’s ground grading requirements first, which means we need to build new changing rooms as there are none on our site. There are other hurdles but this is by far the biggest.
However, securing permission from Newham council’s planning department to go ahead with this essential work has taken much longer than expected, and there is a chance the council may reject our application. This is because of concerns over the preservation of a tree that OSDGT directors decided would need removing before construction starts, because it could fall onto the completed changing rooms in the future.
This is not a decision we took lightly. All 28 trees at the ground have Tree Protection Orders and we would keep them all if we could. However, we relied on expert opinion from both Newham council’s tree officer and an external consultant, who told us that the tree impacting our plans had a limited life due to disease. We also felt that if we were spending over £120,000 of the club’s funds, it was essential to minimise the risk of building a structure that is potentially difficult or even impossible to insure because the tree proximity risked storm or high-wind damage.
Initially, there was agreement from the Newham’s tree officer that we could go ahead if we promised to plant five additional trees at the Old Spotted Dog Ground. However, it now seems Newham’s planners may have changed their minds. We are seeking to find out why.
The difficulties we face in solving this problem are two-fold. Firstly, situating the changing rooms anywhere else in the Ground creates new problems. Some options are just as likely to impact other trees on the site that will prohibit planning consent. Secondly, other choices are very expensive and because of the scale of disrepair when we took over in July 2020, we simply don’t have enough money. These options will also take much longer and delay the club’s return even more than we currently predict.
We have explored the possibility of using the existing changing room space in the warehouse next door on a short term basis. However, the Insolvency Service that controls it is not interested in renting and is keen to sell as soon as it can. Based on their valuation we cannot possibly afford it without a massive fundraising drive that could take months. Even then, it looks like the warehouse is in worse shape than the clubhouse was when we took over.
The volunteers who have given up hundreds of hours of their free time as OSDGT directors feel a huge burden of expectation on us all to make sure our club returns to its home as soon as possible. This has involved taking endless decisions and considerations of risks on everything from replacing the clubhouse roof to fixing unsafe electrics and making sure the bar eventually opens, so we can start raising money for all the other repairs that are needed.
Based on advice from our architect, OSDGT directors cannot see an obvious, workable Plan B for the changing rooms if the current planning permission is rejected, which is why we are continuing to try and understand what the planners’ concerns are and to try to address them.
Regardless of the outcome, it is now clear that Clapton CFC’s projected return to the Old Spotted Dog will not now take place in January 2022. It is unlikely that we will make it back before April at the earliest.
We will continue to work as hard as we can to make sure teams playing competitively on the Dog’s hallowed turf happens sooner rather than later.
Annu, Harry, Joe, Kevin, Laura, Rob, Sean, Sukhdev
– Old Spotted Dog Ground Trust